First real Arctic blast
Plants inside, animals fed . . .
Spiced apple fragrance . . .
So our Arctic blast last week wasn't good enough, and Mother Nature has decided to soundly kick our butts this week even more, beginning with 23 degrees F tonight, a high tomorrow (really?) of a whopping 30, a low tomorrow night of 14 degrees F, and at least four more consecutive days with low temperatures in the 20s. Yikes!
I tought we were supposed to be in the Deep South . . . and it isn't even Thanksgiving yet!
Our past three winters we've gotten down to a low of minus 3 degrees F, but in the eight years we've lived here, I have never seen temperatures in the teens before January . . . or after January, for that matter.
And making it worse, the week before our first freezing blast we had highs in the 60s and 70s, so our intro to winter this year was anything but gradual, and I'm praying that a lot of our in-ground plants and trees make it, and aren't weakened and killed by the suddenness of it all.
But one of my consolations was finding organic Gala apples on sale, so I bought two 3-pound bags, washed and cut them up, and set about making apple butter.
After a couple of days on the stove, it became clear that we needed more apples, and I had wanted to add some Granny Smiths, or another tart apple variety, in order to give more depth of flavor than the Galas by themselves would produce.
So last night, I picked up two more 3-pound bags; one bag of Galas, and another of Granny Smiths. These should give us the quantity of apple butter that we desire, with the more robust flavor from the Granny Smiths.
Even better, the house smells phenomenal, as I spice my apple butter similarly to my mulled apple cider, which adds not only flavor, but also multiple health benefits.
I've written about my spiced honey and mulled cider before, and so won't go into great detail about them here, except to say that they have helped us to steer clear of the worst of the winter viruses going around for years.
Any time one of us feels like we are starting to come down with something, we take a heaping teaspoonful of spiced honey, and usually by that evening, we are feeling far better. Only rarely are multiple doses needed, though sometimes we take them anyway, just because it tastes SOOOOOO good!
The spices I use for all three, apple butter, mulled cider and spiced honey, are quite similar, and are known for being antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, incredibly nutritious, and just plain health-giving..
So, for example, for a pint of raw honey, I would add a scant teaspoon each of powdered turmeric, ginger, Ceylon cinnamon, and ground black seed (Nigella sativa), a scant half teaspoon each of ground cloves and nutmeg, a few shakes of black or white pepper, as preferred, which will help everything to be more bioavailable, and a scant shake or two of cayenne pepper, or to taste, to aid in digestion and augment the circulatory system.
I find that adding the spices to half the honey first, then stirring until well blended, works far better than trying to blend them into an already too-full bottle. Once well blended, then add the rest of the honey and stir again, and you will find that you have consistently better and easier results.
Warming the honey slightly can help as well, which is what I was doing in the photo above, as I wanted to incorporate some raw honey that had crystalized.
If making spiced honey, I leave it at that, but if making apple butter or mulled cider, I also add a small amount of either grassfed ghee or extra virgin coconut oil, or both, as the fats help to make the turmeric and other spices far more bioavailable, and help to mellow out the flavors. They are not needed in spiced honey.
Scale up the amounts of the spices as necessary when making apple butter, or mulled cider, or mulled wine.
I am a longtime fan of long extraction over the lowest heat possible, in order to preserve nutrients and blend flavors, which works well for both apple butter and mulled apple cider.
And, as of tomorrow night, our heaters will be helped out by the stovetop cooking of not just apple butter, but apple cider as well, and I'll also begin the extraction for another long-awaited batch of hickory syrup. Yum.
For mulled wine, specifically, it is best not to extract for over an hour or two at most, to use a slow simmer, and never to allow it to come to a boil. The lower temperatures and extraction times will preserve the alcohol content of the wine, unless you'd rather not, in which case a longer extraction is fine.
Any leftover mulled wine or cider, should there be any, will make a spectacular holiday jelly, delicious and health-giving at any time of the year.
For the record, in making my apple butter, I do not peel the apples, and I use no additional sweetener.
The apple peels add a substantial amount of pectin, a soluble fiber that drastically helps with digestive issues, and gives the apple butter far better consistency than when it is peeled away.
Although the first couple of times I made apple butter, I did add pure maple syrup as a sweetener, I have since found that I prefer the taste of the apple butter without sweeteners, which is plenty sweet enough, and of thise to whim I have given a jar, none have ever asked why I didn't use sweetener.
It is, quite simply, not needed.
Now, if my apple butter had consisted entirely of Granny Smith apples, perhaps it might have been, but I am still inclined to think not. Apples get much sweeter when cooked, and as I use a days-long slow simmer, giving them plenty of tie to break down the fibers, it also brings out their sweetness in a way that typical recipes do not.
As for the peels, once the apple butter has finished cooking, and I ladle it into individual jars for water bath processing, they are indiscernible. You would never know they were there, even if you spread it thinly on toast.
And a big dollop of warm apple butter on vanilla ice cream or yogurt is transcendent. ;-)
Meanwhile, our lovely kitties are enjoying having the heaters on again, and even though they each have their own kitty beds, since Bear's illness, Musica and he have taken to napping together often.
He is doing much better, his full blood panel came back far better than expected, and he has already gained back more than a pound, so I am beside myself with joy at his ongoing recovery.
Truffle has taken to mostly napping in the living room, which is darker and has less traffic than the kitchen, which is fine too. As long as she comes to be fed, and wants out on a regular basis, I'mm letting her do her thing.
Tomorrow should be interesting, since it is already snowing, and not expected to break freezing tomorrow, as i have an appointment with a new (to me) chiropractor in the afternoon. I'm hoping that the roads aren't too bad, since we had rain turn into snow, and driving on snow and ice are far from my favorite pursuits.
But life goes on, and is getting better, better and better.
I hope that everyone stays healthy and well this winter season, that we all have safe and lovely holidays, and that those who wish to are able to gather with family and friends to celebrate.